Win Willy (pictured) is the example of how one win in a major stakes race can propel a heretofore unknown 3-year-old into a possible Kentucky Derby winner.
"As of Feb. 22, I had no ambition of anything going big," said owner Jerry Myers, who saw his 56-1 shot catch and pass heavily favored Old Fashioned to win the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. "The win is our stepping stone to the Derby."
Myers said Win Willy has been looking great in workouts as he preps for the April 11 Arkansas Derby, also at Oaklawn. "It’s his favorite track and somewhat similar to Churchill Downs. It’s not synthetic, so he should be comfortable there. If he comes out OK after the Arkansas, all should be a go for the Derby."
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Win Willy is listed at 30-1 in the latest Derby futures odds sheet at Lucky’s Race and Sports Book. That’s a lot more promising for bettors than his 56-1 in the Rebel, but then Win Willy had never won a Grade II Stakes race until Feb. 22. With all the newfound publicity, came word that Win Willy had Vegas ties.
"My wife Marlene and I spend four months in Henderson each year," Myers said. "I usually wind up a lot at Green Valley Ranch and Sunset Station playing the horses. The rest of the year we go back to Minnesota, where we broke into the racing business some 20 years ago at Canterbury Downs in suburban Minneapolis."
Myers is one owner that leaves the day to day operation of his horses in the hands of the handlers, particularly trainer Mac Robertson. "My decision is Mac’s decision," Myers said. "We have all the confidence in him. Cliff Berry will be our jockey in the Arkansas Derby."
A friend of Myers in Las Vegas tipped GamingToday to the Vegas connection through last week’s article by horse racing columnist Ed Golden that featured an interview with heralded trainer Bobby Frankel, who picked Win Willy to win the Derby.
"I was really surprised by Frankel’s comments," Myers said. "Bobby Frankel is one of the really respected trainers in the business. We sure hope he knows what he’s talking about with us."
If Win Willy wins at Arkansas and in Louisville, it will be from off the pace. "That’s the way my horses run," Myers said. "I like closers. We had the nine hole on a slightly off track in the Rebel when we caught Old Fashioned. That’s what we have to do."